Bush Speeches Go Long

Looks like that yawning boy in Florida may have been on to something when he struggled to stay awake during a recent President Bush (search) speech.

Bush, his rhetoric best known for the occasional syntax (search) mangle and terse, my-way-or-the-highway one-liners, has been tending toward the super-lengthy in his remarks, particularly when the subject is jobs and the economy.

There was Tuesday in El Dorado, Ark., when Bush's event on his job readiness ideas went a full hour.

Even though six other people participated, Bush did the vast majority of the talking. And there are several other examples where Bush alone accounted for all the verbiage: a 54-minute speech in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday on job training, 51 minutes of talk in Wisconsin late last month on the economic salve provided by his tax cuts, and 45 minutes on the same topic in Cleveland on March 10.

Bush's standard speech to purely political audiences also has swelled, from a reliable 24 minutes last year to routinely well over 30.

"He's becoming Clinton-esque," joked Wayne Fields, an expert on political rhetoric at St. Louis' Washington University. The former talker-in-chief once gave an eyeball-glazing 89-minute State of the Union address.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett said the trend is by design -- the president's. Bush has told his schedulers and speechwriters to build in more time so he can walk audiences through the many "really important things going on in our country and our world."

"He takes that role seriously, as sort of educator-in-chief," Bartlett said.

Still, Bush's new loquaciousness has even him cracking jokes.

About halfway through his opening remarks in Arkansas, Bush admitted that were his wife, Laura, with him, she'd be urging him to wrap it up. "I'm getting there, I promise you. I'm winding up," he said. Then he continued talking for almost as long as he already had.

Much was made of 13-year-old Tyler Crotty's yawning and fidgeting as Bush went on for 42 minutes at a re-election rally in Orlando, Fla., last month. After Tyler's struggle was featured in newspapers and replayed on television, the president sent an understanding note. "The hall was hot and my speech was long, so I understand why a fellow your age might nod off," he wrote.

All this from a guy -- "Mr. Brevity," according to longtime Bush watcher and University of Texas government professor Bruce Buchanan -- whose typical speech on the road used to stick solidly in the 20-30 minute range. Bush's most consequential speeches have tended to run even shorter: 15 minutes for his inaugural address, seven minutes in Washington's National Cathedral (search) three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 25 minutes laying out his Iraq case before the United Nations in the fall of 2002, and four minutes to tell the nation last year that war in Iraq had begun.

The president still gives plenty of succinct addresses.

But his talkative streak is notable in part because Bush is known -- even criticized and parodied -- for his blunt and concise rhetoric.

A list of Bush's most memorable utterances would feature many more abrupt statements than lengthy, flowery prose: a "not-over-my-dead-body" tax pledge, a vow to get Usama bin Laden (search) "dead or alive," his "axis of evil" (searchconsisting of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and last summer's "bring 'em on" taunt to Iraq combatants.

The new length comes from the responsibility Bush feels to include an update on Iraq and the war on terror every time he addresses the public, no matter the featured subject of the day, Bartlett said.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an authority on campaign rhetoric with the Annenberg Public Policy Center (search), suspects the president, amid an already tough re-election campaign, is trying to wrap his comments on a subject on which polls show him vulnerable -- the economy -- in the more-popular packaging of his efforts in the war on terror.

"He has to talk about jobs, or he will be seen as uncaring," she said. "But he can't talk about it alone."

Buchanan said Bush looks like someone feeling the heat of slipping poll ratings.

"This is a guy who for the most part has been pretty revered all the time and whose self-image is wrapped up in being resolute under pressure," he said.

The question is: does it matter?

It very well could, said Jamieson, who has noticed more television images of Bush speeches recently with the people in the background -- like Tyler Crotty -- "not looking wildly enthusiastic."

With publicity like that, Bush's gets-to-the-point, what-you-see-is-what-you-get reputation -- a key factor in why voters like him -- could be in danger.

"It's problematic for him," Fields said. "He's made it sort of a point of honor as well as practice that he's a straight talker."